Embassies, as defined in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, enjoy certain legal protections for the purposes of protecting their premises and (some) staff from interference by their receiving countries.

I'm specifically referencing such protections as restrictions on representatives of the receiving country entering the premises, i.e. a police officer cannot enter an embassy without the permission of the embassy.

Do the same protections apply to the premises of consulates?


3 Answers 3


More or less, but this manual gives details on the "less" part, as interpreted by the US State Department. See The 1963 Vienna Consular treaty for the general agreement. Facilities derive immunity from their relationship to consular personnel and their duties. That means that in some cases, a consulate has no immunity.

Diplomatic agents (such as ambassadors) and their families enjoy total immunity. However, some staff only enjoy "official acts" immunity. Immunities only apply to foreign nationals of the sending nation, and not to citizens or permanent residents of the US. Quite often, nations have consular offices outside the capital manned by locals with an interest in the sending nation, and they may carry out business in their own home. The individuals do not have regular consular immunity, they have only official acts immunity, and the premise where they do their business is not unsearchable, unless the premise is used only for official consular business (thus, not their own homes).

Under the Vienna treaty, "consular premises" is a term of diplomatic art, referring to a subset of consulates, as

the buildings or parts of buildings and the land ancillary thereto, irrespective of ownership, used exclusively for the purposes of the consular post

An honorary consul may uses his home for conducting consular business, but it is not immune from search (it is a de facto consulate, but does not qualify as a "consular premise" in the sense defined by the convention). Since such a consul does not enjoy absolute immunity, his residence is not un-enterable, as would be the case for an ambassador or regular consul.

  • "immunities only apply to foreign nationals of the sending nation": immunities apply to all foreign nationals. The US does not accept diplomatic or consular officials who are permanent residents of the US unless the immunities are explicitly waived, and foreign nationals of third states also enjoy immunities (so, for example, a diplomatic officer in the mission of Tahiti to the US who has Ghanaian nationality is immune).
    – phoog
    Dec 12, 2019 at 4:49
  • @phoog The receiving State must give their consent for: their own nationals or nationals of a third State. Articles 8 (Diplomatic) and 22 (Consulate). Dec 12, 2019 at 6:49
  • @MarkJohnson nothing in the convention compels the receiving state to grant consent. And for third-country nationals it is for the receiving state to decide whether its consent is necessary.
    – phoog
    Dec 12, 2019 at 15:17
  • @phoog Correct, if they don't consent the person cannot be appointed. ... except with the consent of that State which may be withdrawn at any time. Dec 12, 2019 at 15:24

Yes, as Dale says, the same protections apply to the premises of consulates and embassies. Under the Vienna Conventions, local authorities need the permission of the head-of-mission to enter the premises of either. However, "premises" are defined differently for embassies and consulates: the "premises" of an embassy includes more than the "premises" of a consulate, so more of the embassy is protected than of the consulate.

What protection do the premises of embassies and consulates get?

Embassies are covered by the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Article 22 of that Convention says:

"The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission."

Consulates are covered by the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Article 31 of that Convention, on the Inviolability of the consular premises says:

"Consular premises shall be inviolable to the extent provided in this article. The authorities of the receiving State shall not enter that part of the consular premises which is used exclusively for the purpose of the work of the consular post except with the consent of the head of the consular post..."

What exactly is protected?

As mentioned above, the definition of "premises" given in the two conventions are not the same.

The premises of embassies include all land and buildings

"used for the purposes of the mission including the residence of the head of the mission."

The premises of consulates however, include all land and building

"used exclusively for the purposes of the consular post."

So, at the very least, the difference is that consular residences, even if they are within the consulate, are not covered. (From the report of the working group that drafted the consular rules, it appears they did not include residences because those residences were not general protected under earlier treaties or laws.)



All diplomatic missions have the same protection whether they are called embassies, consulates, or high commissions.

  • 1
    No, they are not, they are as stated in @Justaguy s answer. Dec 12, 2019 at 4:34
  • @MarkJohnson I think Dale is right -- the premises all get the same protection, but what counts as the premises differ. Or is not a helpful distinction?
    – Just a guy
    Dec 12, 2019 at 5:01
  • 1
    @Justaguy No, only a portion of the consulate is protected: shall not enter that part of the consular premises which is used exclusively for the purpose of the work of the consular post. Where as for an Embassy the whole premise is protected (including living area of an asylum seeker), but a Consulate only the relevant portion (excluding living area of an asylum seeker). So there is a major difference. Dec 12, 2019 at 5:11
  • @MarkJohnson I would say the clause you cite shows that the Consular treaty was poorly drafted. In the Vienna Treaties, "premise of the mission" and "consular premise" are terms of art, defined in the treaties. The Consular Treaty defines "consular premise" as "used exclusively for the purposes of the consular post.." Using that definition, the bit you cite is redundant, since it says something like this: "shall not enter that part of the consular premises which is the consular premises."
    – Just a guy
    Dec 12, 2019 at 5:44
  • @Justaguy The part I quoted is from Article 31 INVIOLABILITY OF THE CONSULAR PREMISES (2) of the Vienna Convention Consular Relations of 24.4.1963. Dec 12, 2019 at 5:51

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